Olympic Track and Field: 10 Things We Learned from London Grand Prix Results
Track and field competition at the 2012 Olympic Games begins in London on Aug. 3, but the year’s first major athletics event in England’s capital city occurred on July 13-14.
The 2012 London Grand Prix was the eighth of 14 stops on the Diamond League series, which contests meets featuring many of the world’s best track and field athletes.
Unsurprisingly, many track and field Olympians made the trip to London early to compete in the Grand Prix, making it a great foreshadowing event of what could happen next month at the Games. In the following slides, I break down many of the meet’s most significant results, and explain what they could mean for the Olympics.
Aries Merritt Further Sets Himself Apart as World’s Best 110-Meter Hurdler
With a win at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, Aries Merritt became the world leader in men’s 110-meter hurdles with a time of 12.93 seconds. Merritt was victorious once again at the London Grand Prix, and ran the exact same time to tie his world lead while also setting a meet record.
Just as he did at trials, Merritt defeated 2011 world champion Jason Richardson, one of his toughest contenders for 110-meter hurdle gold in London. With another tremendous performance, the 2012 indoor 60-meter hurdle world champion has now clearly established himself as the gold-medal favorite for the Games.
Merritt will have to win against a very strong field at the Games, including 2008 Olympic champion Dayron Robles and 2004 Olympic champion Liu Xiang, but having run the world’s two fastest times in his last two meets, the U.S. hurdler now stands atop the pack, and will be the man everyone else is chasing in the 110-meter hurdles.
Kellie Wells Has a Legitimate Chance at Winning 100-Meter Hurdles Gold
Over the past two years, Australia’s Sally Pearson has been virtually unbeatable in women’s 100-meter hurdles. Kellie Wells’ gold-medal victory in the event at the London Grand Prix was only Pearson’s second loss out of her last 34 races, dating back to August 2010, according to The Australian.
Even after her loss, Pearson remains the event’s gold-medal favorite. The 2011 world champion in the event, she has run five of the world’s six fastest times this year. That said, having beaten Pearson once, U.S. hurdler Wells has to be viewed as a top contender to win gold.
Only Pearson and Jamaica's Brigitte Foster-Hylton have run faster times in the event this year, with Wells holding three of the top-10 fastest times. While Wells will probably still not beat Pearson in London, the world leader now knows that she has to take Wells’ competition seriously.
Javier Culson Is the Man to Beat in 400-Meter Hurdles
Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson is not only running the fastest men’s 400-meter hurdles times in the world, he is doing it with incredible consistency.
On each of the past two Saturdays, Culson has completed the event in 47.78 seconds—the fastest time in the world—the latter of which occurred at the London Grand Prix.
Culson will face tough competition from Great Britain’s David Greene, who has finished second to Culson in each of the past two weeks, but if Culson is on his game, he will not be beat.
Culson has run the event six times this year, has won every time and has five of the world’s seven fastest times this year, with the other two coming from Greene in those two second-place finishes.
Culson has never won a world championship, but he is running better this season than he ever has before, and is primed to get his first gold at the 2012 Games.
Carmelita Jeter Is Beatable in 100-Meter Dash
Carmelita Jeter was the 2012 U.S. trials champion and 2011 world champion in the women’s 100-meter dash, but she was not at her best in the London Grand Prix.
Jeter, who has broken 11 seconds in the 100 twice already this year, failed to do so in both the semifinal and final in London, and finished second to Blessing Okagbare, an unheralded sprinter from Nigeria, in the final.
Jeter remains the favorite to win gold in the event, but she will need to be faster next time she runs in London. Nine different women have broken 11 seconds in the 100 this year, meaning Jeter will need to be able to run that fast with consistency at the Games.
Another disappointing result for the 100 came from Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Fraser-Pryce, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist and 2009 world champion, holds the fastest 100 time in the world this year, but had a disappointing eighth-place finish at the Grand Prix.
Lemaitre, Martina Could Battle for 200-Meter Dash Bronze
Jamaica’s two superstar sprinters, Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt, are the overwhelming favorites to take the top two spots in the men’s Olympic 200-meter dash, and that is unlikely to change at any point leading up to the Games.
Assuming the top two hold form, the battle is going to be very tight for bronze, and that battle could be led by France’s Christophe Lemaitre and Churandy Martina of the Netherlands.
Both sprinters had a great performance at the London Grand Prix, with Lemaitre winning in 19.91 seconds, followed by Martina at 19.95. Lemaitre’s time is the fourth-fastest in the world this year, while Martina’s time was only one second off of his season-best, which has him ranked behind only Blake, Bolt and Lemaitre for the season’s fastest times.
Lemaitre established himself as the bronze-medal favorite at the Grand Prix, while Martina is right on his heels, but they will also face competition from a number of runners who were not at the Grand Prix, including U.S. sprinter Wallace Spearmon and the third member of the Jamaican 200-meter team, Warren Weir.
Chaunte Lowe a Gold-Medal Favorite in High Jump
Russian high jumper Anna Chicherova has the world’s two best women’s high jumps this year, but her performance was a disappointment at the London Grand Prix, as she finished in a tie for third place with a jump of only 6 feet, 4 1/4 inches.
In the same meet, the world’s second-ranked high-jumper, Chaunte Lowe of the United States, was victorious with a jump of 6’6 3/4”.
Lowe and Chicherova should go toe-to-toe at the Games as the world’s two best in their event, but after their recent result in London, Lowe is the new favorite for Olympic gold. Lowe has been a consistent performer this year, and has three of the eight best jumps in the world this season.
Other gold-medal contenders in Olympic high jump include fellow U.S. jumper Brigetta Barrett, and another Russian jumper, Svetlana Skholina. Neither competed at the Grand Prix, but both are serious medal contenders at the more important meet coming up in London.
Christian Taylor Reigns Supreme in Triple Jump Again
With a first-place finish at the London Grand Prix, U.S. jumper Christian Taylor further established himself as the favorite to win the gold medal in men’s triple jump at the 2012 Games.
Taylor won the Grand Prix with a jump of 57 feet, 1 1/2 inches. That ranks as only the 10th-longest jump in the world this year, but Taylor also has the world’s two best triple jumps this season, with a top mark of 57’10 1/4”.
Taylor’s toughest competition is likely to come from fellow U.S. jumper Will Claye, who was also Taylor’s collegiate teammate at Florida, and Russian jumper Lyukman Adams. Adams has been the only man to beat Taylor this season, which he did at the Diamond League meet in Oslo, Norway. Claye and Adams currently rank second and third on the list of season’s longest triple jumps.
Perri Shakes-Drayton Comes out of Nowhere in 400-Meter Hurdles
Prior to the London Grand Prix, Great Britain’s Perri Shakes-Drayton’s fastest 400-meter hurdles time of the season was 55.25 seconds, a time 1.85 seconds slower than the world’s fastest, run on July 4 by Russia’s Natalya Antyukh.
Running on her home soil, however, apparently brought the best out of Shakes-Drayton, who ran a career-best time of 53.77 seconds to finish first.
With her win, Shakes-Drayton has now put the women’s 400-meter hurdle world on notice, with a winning time that is tied with Russia’s Irina Davydova for the world’s second-fastest this year. The lingering question, of course, is whether Shakes-Drayton can build upon that performance at the Olympics.
Her fast time came out of nowhere, but now that she knows what she is capable of, she could be ready to make a serious run at not only a medal, but potentially win gold on her home soil.
Team USA’s Lashinda Demus, who is the reigning world champion and has the world’s fifth-fastest time this year, remains the gold-medal favorite, but Shakes-Drayton is now among the favorites for a spot on the podium.
Reese Hoffa Remains Favorite to Win Shot Put Gold
United States thrower Reese Hoffa was the talk of the shot put world until July 7, when fellow American Christian Cantwell took the world lead in the event with a throw of 73 feet, 2 1/2 inches at the Gill Athletic Field Fest.
Hoffa, however, has been a dominant force in shot put this season, and coming off of a London Grand Prix victory, he remains the event’s Olympic gold-medal favorite.
Cantwell did not compete in London, but Hoffa paced the field with a best throw of 70 feet, 1/4 inch.
This winning throw was only Hoffa’s fifth-best throw of the year, and he holds the next three top throws following Cantwell’s world-leading mark. Hoffa has thrown well with consistency, has won all but one event in which he has competed and has already beaten Cantwell four times this season.
Cheruiyot Is Gold-Medal Favorite in 5,000-Meter Run
Kenya’s Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot, who is the world leader in the women’s 5,000-meter run with a time of 14 minutes, 35.62 seconds, further established herself as the event’s Olympic gold-medal favorite with a winning performance of 14:48.86 at the London Grand Prix.
Cheruiyot is the two-time defending world champion in the distance, and with the way she has run this year, she should be expected to defend that title.
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